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Alabama’s defense may have been biggest winner from Tide’s A-Day

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If Alabama fans hoped to glean anything of value from the Crimson Tide’s spring game on Saturday (as much as can be extracted from a glorified scrimmage, anyway), then they need only look at two plays.

The first came on the Crimson Team’s penultimate drive of A-Day. Star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had yet to throw a touchdown on the day. He remedied that when he found Jerry Jeudy between defenders for a 54-yard scoring connection, reminding everyone not only of what this offense can accomplish with the talent it has, but also that this defense must catch up to the offense in 2019.

The second play was Tagovailoa’s final throw of the game, which was hawked out of the air by cornerback Trevon Diggs. It was one of four interceptions the secondary pulled down on the day, the proverbial nail in the coffin as the White Team prevailed over the Crimson 31-17, and a sign the secondary has made those strides in the spring.

MORE: Alabama football: What to expect from Tide in 2019

“So the coverage was tighter, the tackling was better,” coach Nick Saban said. “Everything was better when the 1s were playing against the 1s.”

There’s no denying Alabama’s defense took a back seat in 2018 as the offense became the focal point of the team. The Tide enjoyed an unprecedented passing attack while their defense — which was by no means a weakness — looked mortal when compared to some of the great units Saban has coached in previous seasons.

That said, the fact this secondary could limit Tagovailoa to 19-of-37 passing for 265 yards, with one touchdown and one interception — and that it routinely blanketed the talented trio of Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs — says a lot about the group. Diggs, Xavier McKinney, Patrick Surtain II, Josh Jobe and Jared Mayden combined for six pass break-ups, an interception and exceptionally tight coverage against one of the top receiving corps in the nation.

It’s a positive sign for a group whose lasting impression from 2018 was when Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence carved it up for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the College Football Playoff championship game.

“I thought they did pretty good,” Tagovailoa said of the secondary. “They did a tremendous job, not falling for a lot of things they did in practice. They were a lot more disciplined, they played as one. So I thought they did a good job.”

The secondary wasn’t the only place where the defense excelled Saturday. Inside linebacker Jaylen Moody scored on a 30-yard pick-six. Anfernee Jennings, Eyabi Anoma, Raekwon Davis, Christian Barmore and DJ Dale each had a sack. The Crimson Team was held to 317 yards, including just 13 on the ground.

MORE: Saban going ‘back to the well’ with latest coaching staff

That said, there were plays that Saban will be sure to point out. The defense gave up big gains to tight ends Miller Forristall and Cameron Latu, a converted linebacker. Smith caught six passes for 95 yards. Jeudy caught five for 104. Ruggs had a few drops, including one that could have gone for a touchdown.

On the other side, the Crimson Team defense struggled to consistently defend against Mac Jones, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. His backup, Taulia Tagovailoa, completed 6 of 9 passes for 93 yards and an interception but also threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle while on the run. Freshman receiver John Metchie led all receivers with 133 yards on five catches.

So, while the defense made plays, it still has a lot to work on as it prepares for the 2019 season.

“We made a lot of progress throughout spring,” McKinney said. “I feel like there’s a lot of things to improve on, which we’ll do when we come back. But as of right now, we’re pretty happy with being done in the spring.”

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